Indy Chamber tells IPS to "right size"

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There is a new report out on the financial problems facing Indianapolis Public Schools and ways to fix them. The district has a $30 million budget deficit.

The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce (Indy Chamber) has some tough recommendations intended to save money and improve troubled inner city schools. These are business decisions that will affect teachers, parents, students and their neighborhoods.

School 49 on the city's near west side is nearly full of students. Many other IPS school aren't. They are about half empty. Reducing or "right sizing" the number of schools, administrators and educators, the report concluded, is necessary to save IPS tens of millions of dollars.

Indy Chamber President Michael Huber summed up the 66-page report.

"IPS needs to make tough management decisions if it is going to provide high quality education for kids and improve education for kids," said Huber.

Indy Chamber took a business approach to solving IPS budget problems. It identified schools and facilities that could save the most money, and raise the most cash. They are located on prime real estate, businesses, developers, and neighbors would pay top dollar to have.

The report identifies other ways to save money. They include smarter ways to purchase and use technology, more efficient heating and cooling systems in schools, cheaper ways of busing students. In some cases that might have students ride IndyGo instead of IPS buses.

The biggest and most controversial savings though would come through closing schools. School Board member Diane Arnold explained, "The worst thing you can do is for a community is to close a school. It cuts to the heart out of the neighborhood."

To lessen the impact, the former board president and IPS superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee agree with the Chamber's recommendation of keeping some schools open by moving other organizations, even charter schools, into the unneeded space.

"Instead of saying everybody is wrong and we are right, we need to say come to the table with some ideas," said Ferebee. 

IPS has already begun trimming its administration and other positions. Teachers and other employees are worried about keeping their jobs.

"We are looking for our most talented and most loyal employees," Ferebee said. "If you are extremely proficient at what you do, then I would not worry. But we are going to ensure we have the most talented individuals in our schools."

If students are to learn more, everyone appears to agree IPS must be leaner and smarter outside the classrooms.

The superintendent isn't saying how soon cuts will be made. By opening its books and operation to the Indy Chamber, Indianapolis Public Schools turned an adversary into an ally.

We're told some big businesses leaders thought they had the answers to IPS's problems and were eager to get to work. However, after getting inside troubled schools, they realized fixing them is more complicated than they imagined.

Read the report here.